Morning Wrap: The playoff field begins to thin
NEW YORK -- The list of possible first-round foes the Celtics could face in the first round is a lengthy one.
But with two weeks remaining in the season, it’s hard not to conclude the Charlotte Hornets (35-41) and the Detroit Pistons (35-42) will be left out of the postseason party.
The Hornets hit this final stretch of the season with the toughest remaining schedule (.601) of the teams in the East that are still playoff-eligible. Even with wins in three of their last four games, it’s hard to imagine that they will make up the two-game deficit they face for the eighth spot, especially since they're facing road games at Oklahoma City, Washington and Milwaukee and a home game against the Celtics, who still have the best record in the East.
As for Detroit, the Pistons are once again one of the big disappointments in the East. They've suffered some absolutely heartbreaking losses as part of a current stretch in which they have lost six of their last seven games. And they, too, play one of the toughest remaining schedules (.545), which puts the odds of seeing them somewhere between slim and none.
Which leaves us with five likely foes for Boston to see in the first round of the playoffs. Here’s a morning wrap of those five teams and where they stand heading into the home stretch of this season.
MILWAUKEE (40-36), FIFTH IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE
The Bucks continue to play some of the best basketball not just in the East, but the NBA. Giannis Antetokounmpo (left) will get some serious consideration for All-NBA this season not only because of his play but because he’s doing what the truly great players do which is win games and make those around him better. However, the back stiffness being experienced by Malcolm Brogdan is a bit concerning considering the impact he has made on this team at the point, which is why they will reportedly bring in Gary Payton Jr. UP NEXT: Today vs Dallas.
ATLANTA (39-37), SIXTH IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE
Everyone in A-town is waiting with great anticipation the return of Paul Millsap (left), an absolutely must-have for this team to have any shot at postseason success. Even when Millsap returns, there’s still a lot of questions and uncertainty as to whether they have what it takes to do anything other than show up for the postseason. It’s unlikely they’ll play their way back into the fifth spot, which means a rematch of last year’s first-round series with the Celtics is a very real possibility. UP NEXT: Today at Brooklyn.
CHICAGO (37-39) SEVENTH IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE
I said a few days ago that the Bulls were going to charge their way into the playoffs because of a cushy end-of-the-season schedule. But they’re even winning the games they’re not supposed to (versus Cleveland; at Atlanta) so it’s not a stretch to see them rise as high as sixth in the East. Dwyane Wade (elbow) being out has reminded folks just how good Jimmy Butler (left) is, and why the Bulls were so reluctant to trade him at the February deadline. UP NEXT: Today at New Orleans.
MIAMI (37-39), EIGHTH IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE
At some point, all that gutsy, scrappy, overachieving play gets a cold dose of reality in the form of realizing that there are teams -- a lot of teams -- that are just better. Unfortunately for Miami, they’re going to see a lot of them in these final days of the season. And most if not all, have playoff aspirations of some form, which means out-working them became a lot tougher. UP NEXT: Today vs. Denver.
INDIANA (37-39), NINTH IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE
The Pacers are similar to Detroit in terms of being a team that many expected would be a lot better than their record would suggest. While health has certainly been an issue, the bigger problem for them has been chemistry. They have talented players to where ability isn’t a question. But how that ability meshes . . . that’s the problem. If Indiana can manage to navigate their way back into the playoffs, chances are high that their time in the postseason won’t be long. UP NEXT: Today at Cleveland.